06 Aug Interview with Nontobeko Ndhlazi
Group Chief Financial Officer of Wiphold
Nontobeko holds a BCom degree and a post-graduate Diploma in Accounting, and serves as a non-executive director on the boards of some of Wiphold’s investee companies. She completed her articles at Deloitte, where she became a director of the Special Services Group. Wiphold is a black women-owned investment company focused on strategic investments in key economic sectors, including mining, agriculture, cement manufacturing, and financial services. The returns on investments are used to drive broad-based empowerment initiatives.
Tell us your story — how did you get to where you are now?
I’m a Durban girl, born and bred, one of four kids raised by a single mom. My high-school years were spent in a very unique school, which unfortunately is no longer in existence, and were of the most definitive times in my formative years. The school was called Uthongathi, and it was South Africa’s first non-racial school. It was built on totally different principles and philosophies compared to the other schools in the country at the time. I haven’t seen anything like it since.
Thereafter, I attended the University of Natal, now called UKZN, where I did my BCom. I then went on to complete my articles at Deloitte’s Durban offices, and then moved to Jo’burg, still with Deloitte. I joined their Special Services Group division, which was basically a financial management consulting division. I found a home there and stayed with Deloitte for just over ten years. I made my way up the ranks and eventually made partner. I parted ways with Deloitte in 2010 to join Wiphold, where I was first contracted as a consultant. A year later, I joined permanently as the Group CFO.
What are some of the biggest challenges you faced in getting to where you are now?
I feel I have had lots of support and many mentors, especially career-wise. I know it’s different from many black women’s experiences in corporate South Africa, but mine was quite a good experience. I’d say my biggest challenges were my own insecurities and my own feelings about my abilities. Obviously, with this career path, I was looking to be a chartered accountant. I ended up not qualifying, so that was a bit of a knock and a challenge to come back from. All my successes were despite not qualifying and despite not passing the exam. It almost seemed inconsequential, because I got to where I was aiming for. But even now, if I were to advise young people, I’d say, ‘Stay on that path to qualify’, because I did not take the easy way.
Looking back on your career and life, what advice would you give your younger self and other young women in South Africa?
Do the inner work. Get to know yourself. Discover your passions and try to find what your purpose is, sooner rather than later. It would help diminish insecurities. I don’t think you can get rid of insecurities, but having a purpose would help diminish them. When you have a sense of self, the confidence outweighs the insecurities. Take the time to introspect, because, when you’re young, there’s a lot of social stuff, and you don’t give yourself as much of a chance to be on your own to introspect and do some of that inner work.
My second piece of advice is to speak up. I’m not saying change from an introvert to an extrovert, but find your voice and speak up. What you have to say is valuable and it adds to the diversity of thoughts and ideas. Even if it isn’t adding that much value at a particular point in time, you need to build up the confidence to speak up and not be scared of rejection. You often find that just about everyone in the room is thinking, ‘Is this question too silly to ask? Is this idea too silly to put forth?’ So, speak up!
Finally, I found that I took myself so seriously when I was younger. I would tell my younger self, ‘Don’t take yourself so seriously. Have fun!’ Have the appropriate type of fun for the age and stage, but just loosen up a bit.
What are you most proud of in your career and personal life?
One of the things I’m most proud of is being in a place and in a company that has allowed me to find what I think is part of my purpose — uplifting woman and being involved in work that has to do with women’s empowerment.
I’m proud to be in a company like Wiphold. I’m proud to be part of the leadership within which I’m given a lot of faith and allowance to drive that agenda. I’m proud of the work that we do and my input into the work of uplifting women, whether it’s in the broader sense in terms of our stakeholders, or just in the company, with our staff and my team. I also take that into my personal life. It is a passion, and it’s not restricted to my career. In my personal life, I support women entrepreneurs. I am a big proponent of ‘buying black’ and buying from women. If I need it, I’ll first try to buy it from black women or a women-owned company. I’m proud to be part of that. That is part of my contribution to South African society and the economy.
What is your wish for gender equality and women in South Africa?
I wish gender equality would be taught more proactively in school — getting kids to think about gender equality at a school level. Life orientation classes don’t seem to be addressing the things that we need to be discussing. I think it would go a long way to make sure that the boy child is also brought into this discussion and way of thinking and approach to life, to normalise it.
My second wish is around black and white women. I think there’s a sense of distrust. I’m generalising, obviously, but I think there could be a better connection and relationship. I don’t really know what white women want and how it differs or overlaps with what black women are going through and are fighting for. There is strength in numbers, so, if there could be more collaboration, I think more progress would be made.
Finally, I wish politicians would take their cues from civil society, rather than the other way around, because I don’t think they are doing justice to gender equality. There’s just some disconnect. I just wish the politicians would stay out of it until we tell them what to do and how we want things to be structured. They are civil servants, after all. They are meant to be serving us.